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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 July, 2004, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Cahill's life 'like a Hollywood movie'

By Mark Simpson
By BBC Ireland correspondent

Veteran Republican Joe Cahill died in Belfast on Friday at the age of 84. BBC's Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson examines the career of the man who led the IRA during the 1970s before lending his support to the current ceasefire.

Bill Clinton took one look at Joe Cahill, put out his hand and said with a wide grin "this man needs no introduction".

Joe Cahill pictured on 29 March 2003
Cahill was considered the father figure of modern republicanism

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams had been about to introduce Cahill, but the US President brushed him off. Clinton knew all about this former IRA leader.

He had read the CV - murder, gun-running, hunger-strikes, friendship with Colonel Gaddafi, violence, a death sentence and a last-minute reprieve.

It reads like the script from a Hollywood movie, but this was serious - deadly serious.

The meeting between Cahill and Clinton came at Stormont four years ago when the outgoing US President went to say his farewells, and soak up some appreciation for his part in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement.

One of the reasons why that historic deal was possible was the IRA ceasefire.

Many believe that it may not have happened if it hadn't been for the support of veteran republican Cahill, who was seen as the touchstone of the republican movement.


And that is why Sinn Fein wanted him to go to the United States to prepare IRA supporters in Irish-America for the ceasefire announcement in August 1994.

Given Cahill's long association with violence, American officials were reluctant to grant him a visa.

The then Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds stepped in, and phoned the President, who was relaxing at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

For me Joe was as true and honest as the day was long
Martin McGuinness
Clinton was not in the mood to compromise. "Have you read this man's CV?" he asked.

Reynolds responded: "I haven't read his CV but I can well imagine... there are no saints in the IRA.

"Give him a visa for a week, and extend it afterwards if the ceasefire decision comes through."

Clinton agreed, and the rest is Irish history.

The incident is recalled in the book 'The Fight for Peace' by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick.

Rock solid

But was Albert Reynolds right when he said there are no saints in the IRA?

Not so, if you listen to people like Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams talking about Cahill.

"For me Joe was as true and honest as the day was long," says McGuinness.

"He was a man who was always committed to peace.

"When people look back on his role, they will come to the conclusion that Joe Cahill was rock solid and he will stand alongside the likes of Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Padraig Pearse, Maire Drumm, Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell."

He may have been a father-figure to some, but to many others Cahill was seen as a godfather of terrorism.

Critics will argue that although his support for the peace process was crucial, if it hadn't have been for fanatics like him, perhaps the "war" would not have been quite so bloody.

Born in 1920 in west Belfast, the first of 11 children, Cahill lived through more conflicts than he could remember.

He told his biographer Brendan Anderson: "I was born in a united Ireland, I want to die in a united Ireland."

He didn't get his life's wish. But he did win a place in the history books, for good or ill.

Tributes to veteran republican
24 Jul 04 |  Northern Ireland
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17 Mar 03 |  Northern Ireland
Adams move 'muddies the waters'
28 Apr 03 |  Northern Ireland


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